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''Ugly Betty'': Our heroine fights her new crush

On ”Ugly Betty,” our heroine struggles against her feelings for Henry From Accounting; meanwhile, both she and Daniel commit to Sofia

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America Ferrera, Ugly Betty

”Ugly Betty”: Our heroine fights her new crush

Anyone who thinks I’m overexcited that Henry From Accounting has been made a recurring player on Ugly Betty probably either (a) missed tonight’s episode or (b) thinks first-rate romantic chemistry can be found in bland Hollywood debacles like the Ashley Judd-Hugh Jackman vehicle Someone Like You.

In what can’t be more than 20 minutes of screen time together, America Ferrera and Christopher Gorham have cooked up the kind of palpable sexual tension that movie studios keep desperately trying to create on the big screen — most often with miserable results. It’s like the difference between a ripe tomato picked fresh out of your backyard garden and a mealy hothouse variety purchased at a cut-rate Manhattan bodega in the middle of January.

Granted, the Ugly Betty writing crew (with double entendres like ”I guess I’ll be on top of you for the next couple days”) certainly deserves some credit for nurturing the relationship tree (sorry, I’ll let my flora metaphor die a quick death now), but Ferrera and Gorham can create the love tinglies while barely uttering a word. To me, Betty’s hallway collision with Henry — specifically, the way he brushed some of that fake snow off her bangs — was hotter than a hundred kisses between Meredith and McDreamy on Betty‘s sister program, Grey’s Anatomy. No matter that our heroine is the prototypical ”before” photo, with bushy brows, gleaming braces, and a Frosty the Snowman sweater, or that her knight in shining armor is a number-crunching geek with the ability to recall inane scientific facts — I’d shell out $11 on a Saturday afternoon to see ’em!

And while it’s probably a little soon for Ugly Betty: The Movie, you know that when the Betty-Henry lip-lock happens — and doesn’t get interrupted by our gal waking up in headgear and rollers — the moment will be one of the year’s most YouTubed, watercoolered crowd-pleasers.

Where that leaves Betty’s current squeeze, Walter, remains to be seen, but let’s be real for a moment: The doe-eyed guy who once cheated on Betty and broke her heart is showing growth — and his expressed desire to understand her new world is sweet — but he’s not the One. Who could be happy seeing a smart, ambitious 22-year-old woman (who’s just beginning to acknowledge her own strengths and capabilities) settle for someone who doesn’t make her palms sweat, who leaves her with only the sound of a ticking clock, not a thump-thumping heart? Not for all the cubed cheddar in the world! I just hope that Hilda realizes her mistake in crumpling up Henry’s phone message, and that Betty realizes her new crush wasn’t digging the kiss planted on him by that promiscuous lingerie model.

Amazingly enough, Betty and Henry weren’t this week’s only dream team. Watching Betty and Amanda (the revelatory Becki Newton, who really ought to score a Best Supporting Actress Emmy nomination on just the strength of her gagging reaction shot to Betty’s sensible shoes) plan the office Christmas party was tastier than a mugful of spiked eggnog. You’ve got to love a show that can make self-referential in-jokes without resorting to annoying breaks in character. For instance, take Betty and Amanda hilariously referring back to the pilot episode:

Amanda: ”What’s the first thing I ever said to you?”

Betty: ”Are you the ‘before’?”

Amanda: ”Okay, the second thing.”

Betty: ”Are you dee-liv-er-ing some-thing?”

(I pause here to ask: Why aren’t 100 percent of America’s TV sets tuned into this show?)

I also love the way the writers pepper their dialogue with zippy external pop-culture references, like Amanda’s use of the term ”McSlutty,” or Marc’s uproarious suggestion that the perfect person to fill Betty’s position would be none other than The Devil Wears Prada‘s Anne Hathaway.

What I’m wondering now, though, is how Team Betty is going to unpaint itself from a logical but horrible corner: Its leading lady is leaping to MYW magazine. There’s no way anyone can convince me Betty shouldn’t accept Sofia’s offer; after all, her smarts and ambition certainly aren’t being used to their potential helping Daniel choose shirts or fetching coffee. And yet, can I admit it’ll break my heart if she leaves the gay-Star Trek halls of Mode? Watching Betty and Daniel embrace at the end of the holiday party — she in her garish getup, he in a plum-and-magenta-striped tailored shirt that’s on my Christmas wish list — was this week’s Lump in My Throat Moment. (Also, side note: Am I crazy to think that Daniel is pushing Betty toward a job at MYW not only out of altruism but also because, deep down, he knows it’ll be one more way for him to stay close to Sofia?)

Anyhow, since I seem to be obsessed with dynamic duos this week, a couple quick shout-outs to these other pairings: a drunken, randy Christina hooking up with the office Santa (in the men’s bathroom!); resident Grinch Wilhelmina’s heart growing three sizes bigger at the unexpected appearance of Beaumart exec Ted (Brett Cullen); a tipsy, boogying Amanda, attempting to flirt with Marc; and Hilda alternately sparring and trading makeup tips with bitter neighborhood souse Gina.

And, while I’m on the subject of Things That I Loved About This Episode: 10 bonus points to the fashionista in wardrobe who scored that rockin’ red-striped dress of Amanda’s; 15 apiece to the folks who wrote the lines ”We’re a bunch of unstable, hungry, backstabbing bitches. Do you really think anyone would sell us guns?” and ”Christmas mornings for me are all about martinis and Valium”; 20 to the cinematographer who captured the Marc’s-eye-view shot of Willy as he huddled behind the branches of her frosty white Christmas tree; and 25 to the elf who put Martha Stewart Living on Justin’s holiday wish list. As for me, well, here’s hoping Santa’s planning to bring a sack of new Betty episodes come December 25. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how long I can wait.

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did you notice the pheasant painted on the Mode elevators, or the word ”Serenity” stenciled on the wall of the women’s bathroom? Weren’t you glad Salma Hayek’s Sofia actually brushed her teeth after waking up with Daniel, something 99.9 percent of small- and large-screen characters never seem to do? Do you think the elusive Fey Sommers will ever come out of hiding? And more important, do you care?